dear Judy Blume

by ck on March 11, 2013

Dear Judy Blume,

You use the word “stupid” a lot in the Fudge books. A lot a lot. Like several hundred percent more then we use at our house. And as a mindful (sometimes accidentally self-righteous) mother, I try to make sure that we shop for our vocabulary in only the finest, freshest family books. So when I started reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to my 5YO and 8YO I found myself almost instantly editing as I went. I justified that this was okay because 1) Peter was older than my girls, 2) he was a boy, and not technically real 3) he lived in NYC, and as a Jersey girl transplanted in the DC area, I’m fully aware that Northern vocabulary is somewhat harsher than it is here in the hidden-behind-super-manners-not-quite South.

Unfortunately, in my zeal for “clean” stories I’d forgotten that my 8YO can also read.

8YO: (whispering): “Mama, you skipped a word.”

ME: “Uhhhh…hold on, let me just finish this chapter.”

8YO: “Why do you keep skipping the word ‘stu–’”

5YO: “You’re skipping words? What words?”

8YO: “She’s skipping ‘stu–’”

ME:  “We’ll talk about it when we get to the end of the chapter…”

I kept going. I’ve never seen my 5YO try so hard to read, or my 8YO so intent on policing my progress. Then I sensed it. The next “stupid.” My 8YO spotted it at the same time and turned to me. Right then and there I decided to read the word. All six letters of it, and like I really meant it. Partially because it would be a bigger deal if I didn’t, and also because these were your words, not mine. You were the writer I’d trusted most growing up, why on earth wouldn’t I trust you with my kids? What was I afraid of, really?

My girls burst forth into rapid conversation the moment I put a period at the end of the “stupid” sentence. I learned some interesting things. Kids in preschool call each other stupid a lot when their teachers aren’t listening and my 5YO regularly comforts them because she knows the word isn’t nice. My 8YO thinks the word a lot, even though she doesn’t say it, and often feels really bad about it, but doesn’t know what to do with how she feels. And they learned that I was once a girl who used the word liberally, loudly and still occasionally have to apologize for it, even now as an adult. Since then each girl has taken me aside to share moments when they want to call each other stupid, but tell me about it instead, because they know I understand how they’re feeling.

Somehow in my quest to make sure that my daughters were fed only the choicest vocabulary I’d forgotten that they were kids. Which is ridiculous, given that I share a house with them, comfort them, and occasionally hide from them when I need a break from being their mom. My refusing to acknowledge the word “stupid” didn’t make the word go away. It just made them feel guilty for thinking it, and unprepared for what to do with that feeling. When had I become such a verbal prude? And if I couldn’t have open discussions with them about something as simple as the word “stupid” how would we ever get through the really hard things, like sex and love and hate? Thank you for helping me remember, and for opening up an unexpected way for me to communicate and laugh with my daughters.

Because really, Uncle Feather vs. Mrs. Hildebrandt? Best use of the word “stupid” ever.

All my love,

Cindy

©2013 CEK. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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Got a some love for Judy Blume? Submit your stories, letters, or essays to my wonderful friend Kitchen Witch’s #JudyBlumeProject. She and fellow blogger Kim are compiling an anthology of love for Judy Blume and will be accepting submissions for consideration until 4/30/13. Check out their Facebook page: The Judy Blume Project.

 

{ 8 comments }

Fie Upon This Quiet Life March 11, 2013 at 9:35 am

Ye gads… I can relate. Thing is — trying to eliminate a word like “stupid” makes it all the more appealing because of its taboo. The women I used to hang out with when I lived in the bay area used to limit vocab and TV and sodas and sugars and all sorts of stuff that I grew up with taking for granted. Now, I’m not saying that all of that is bad. But I remember one of my friends wouldn’t allow any plastic toys, any TV, and no foods that weren’t whole food, organic stuff. I said to her one time, “What do you think your kid is going to do in college?” I envision him going insane and ingesting the absolute worst of everything — from soda to TV to porn to plastic.

Having friends who were “anti-everything” made me realize that moderation is the only way to go if you want your kids to grow up with the ability to make their own choices. Giving them basically no choices when we live in a world with almost infinite choices seems like a very bad idea to me, setting kids up to implode when they reach adulthood. Now that’s stupid.

ck March 11, 2013 at 9:54 am

YES. I agree. And not only that, but it’s so easy to get caught up in what we think is best for our kids that we don’t (or I didn’t) even realize we’re doing something that could have the adverse effect.

This whole “stupid” situation has made me take a few steps back and reevaluate other things as well. Nothing quite as humbling as that. :)

Kim Jorgensen Gane March 11, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Welcome, Cindy!! So pleased to have you on board for The Judy Blume Project! You did a fantastic job, and we’re proud to have you along on this ride.

Fellow Blumer,
–Kim

Dawn @What's Around the Next Bend? March 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm

My mother tried to eliminate all words that would even come close to words she didn’t like. Example: We couldn’t say gosh because it was too close to god. We couldn’t say geeze cause it was too close to Jesus.
In fact, I got my mouth washed out with soap for those “too close” words many, MANY times. I reveled when I got to college and could cuss like a sailor and no one thought twice about it. I still sometimes cuss but when I do, I apologize to my children and tell them that it isn’t a nice word. I think that is better for them to know that mom’s mess up too instead of eliminating things that will come out eventually.
So, great job CK! That and I *LOVE* that you are reading Judy Blume to them!!

Gigi March 11, 2013 at 7:01 pm

I LOVED Judy Blume when I was younger – and never even thought about the word “stupid” – but then it wasn’t taboo back then. But yes, you can’t shield your children – you can only teach them. They may not be saying it or doing it – but they are hearing/seeing it out in the real world of elementary school.

Court March 11, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Great advice for someone whose kids are a bit younger! Just tonight I was wanting to edit my husbands story about his abusive stepfather, and it wasn’t like he was going into gory details but I wanted to protect then from hearing anything bad at all. He wrapped it up with, sometimes my daddy was mean to me and it hurt. And the kids were all… Huh. That’s nice dad. And went back to eating dinner. I think we freak out anticipatory too often is all.

faemom March 12, 2013 at 2:31 am

You are such an amazing writer. It’s great that you read to your kids, and your kids are so bright to catch you skipping words. And then you used it as a teaching moment. When I grow up, I want to be you.
And you reminded me! I told Kitch that I hadn’t read any Judy Blume, but I read all the Fudge series books. And I’ll read them again to see if they will keep the interest of the boys. We’re reading the Magic Treehouse Series.

Tiffany March 12, 2013 at 2:02 pm

This is SO good and so true. We can’t say stupid over here b/c Olivia doesn’t know to censor herself…but we definitely acknowledge it and talk about it…and we’ve had the f-word discussion with our almost 11-year-old b/c I love it and sometimes you fucking need it. ;)

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